A useful definition of hegemony is “knowledge” that is manufactured through oppressive power, or knowledge that is common to the people, rather than knowledge that is well thought-out ideology. A powerful example of the relationship between hegemony and material culture becomes apparent when we ask the question, “How is it that peasant societies are able to revolt?” Peasant societies are able to revolt because they do not rely totally on wage labour as they have alternate means of subsisting and surviving in the world. As a result, this means they are not materially dominated by the owners of their production as they have a dual relationship to the economy. Because of, and through, this dual relationship to the economy they are able to exercise their human agency and initiate revolution worldwide. They cannot be controlled by money losses.
Another example of the relationship between hegemony and material culture becomes apparent when one asks, “Why are the working classes unable to successfully revolt?” Due to material domination and the relationship to ideological domination they cannot revolt because they have no alternate lifestyle to place their human agency into action. They are totally dependent on their income. Hence they are trapped, unlike members of peasant societies.
There is another interesting dynamic of hegemony within class domination of capitalism that becomes apparent when we ask, “How is the domination and subordination of the working class reproduced and sustained? It seems that most people are not puzzled by their lack of control over their lives, but rather mostly we actively and contradictorily express “resistance” to the very thinkers that could lead to our freedom in various ways. One way is through anti-intellectualism where as a result we prevent ourselves from developing a full critique and understanding of the structures of domination. Through anti-intellectualism we actually celebrate and perpetuate our domination, thus successfully preserving the status quo for our oppressors. In this way, as a force of hegemony, we further embed ourselves in the very world that we wish to escape from.
We celebrate hegemony and our oppression in many ways: through nationalism, shopping, silicone implants, inappropriate shoes, fashion slavery, Tim Hortons, purchasing on credit, diamond rings, endless materialism, big homes with big mortgages, and gluttony. Can you think of others ways? We need to learn from the turtle who teaches us there are two ways to get rich: one way is to work hard until you die hoarding a lot on the way, and the other way, which leads to ultimate freedom, is for us to desire little. The turtle is so smart.
Note: This blog is influenced by the anthropological theory I was exposed to as an undergraduate student, in particular the work of Jean and John L. Comaroff and Tom Dunk. In the work regarding Indigenous rights I find my mind always moves in the direction of hegemony and anti-intellectualism where as such I decided to write this short blog.
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